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L.A. Sets Tourism Record Again, Possibly Thanks To Harry Potter

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Ugh, tourists. (Photo by Greg Wass via the LAist Featured Photos pool on Flickr)
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Despite a history of people claiming to hate Los Angeles, we sure get a lot of visitors. For the sixth straight year, L.A. County has hit a record number of visitors, as Mayor Eric Garcetti declared on Wednesday at a press conference at Universal Studios (!), according to the L.A. Times.

The county welcomed 47.3 million visitors in 2016, a nearly 4% boost from 2015, according to a release by the Los Angeles Tourism and Convention Board. All this amounted to a 81.3% average occupancy rate for hotels in 2016—the first time that L.A. hotels have surpassed the 80% mark (free HBO, FTW). In total, 29.2 millions nights of hotel lodging were sold.

Digging deeper into the numbers, we see that 40.2 million of these visitors came from other states, while 7.1 million came from overseas. Mexico and China were the top two countries who had the most visitors to L.A.

In fact, in 2016 L.A. became the first U.S. city to draw more than 1 million visitors from China. And it seems like officials want to continue this trend, as the Board says it will open a tourism office in Chengdu, which will accompany existing outposts in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. This is not much of a surprise, as Chinese tourists, many of whom are entering a growing middle class, spent about $215 billion overseas last year.

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What's making Los Angeles such a buzzy destination spot? It depends on whom you ask. Garcetti, at Universal Studios, cited the popularity of theme park attractions. There is, of course, the "Wizarding World of Harry Potter" expansion that opened in 2015. It was so popular that, on Monday, Universal Studios actually had to close their doors for the first time, as the park had reached full capacity. More than 40,000 people flocked to the Universal grounds that day, according to the Times. And the park is expected to continue its hot streak, as a Nintendo/Super Mario attraction is slated to be installed in the upcoming years.

Curiously, Disneyland experienced a 10% dip in attendance this year, so Garcetti's theory about theme parks is perhaps not entirely sound.

So, tourism is good right? It does, after all, support a leisure and hospitality sector that boasts 500,000 jobs, according to the Board. But some are examining the trend with caution. L.A. City Councilmember David Ryu has introduced a motion asking city staff to study the effects of tourism. He says that "the impacts of tourism as not all positive, nor are all the negative impacts proportionally shared amongst communities."

"We do a good job of attracting tourists, but once they're here, are we doing a good job of directing them to where they want to go?" Estevan Montemayor, director of communications for Ryu's office, told LAist. Montemayor points to the Hollywood sign (which is in Ryu's district), saying that the surrounding infrastructure is unable to keep up with the high number of tourists. Ryu's office considers this a matter of public safety, and not just one about traffic.

Specifically, Ryu wants city staff to look into ways of directing traffic (preferably out of residential zones), ask the Board to install additional tourism centers around the city, and review ways of redirecting tourism money into these efforts.

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Going back to theme parks; here's a picture of Garcetti hamming it up with Councilmember Paul Krekorian. We wish we were there!

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Paul Krekorian (left) with Garcetti (second from left) and members of the Los Angeles Tourism and Convention Board. (Photo courtesy of Universal Studios Hollywood)